There are a lot of studies emerging that show that organizations are wasting valuable time and money on poorly organized meetings. One such study was done by Doodle in their State of Meetings 2019 report. They estimate $399 billion dollars in the U.S. alone is wasted because of ineffective meetings in the workplace. That’s a lot of money!

Over the past year, I have spoken on this subject at many conferences in a talk I created called The Terrible, No Good, Very Great Meeting. I wanted to find a way that, in my own little corner of the world, I could call attention to the problems we all experience with meetings and incite attendees to fix them within their own environments.

To kick off my talk I ask the group to generate ideas based on this invitation: “What can you do to create the worst meeting you have ever attended?”

We have a bit of fun to start this session by exploring how attendees can create a terrible meeting (within moral and ethical boundaries of course). But next, I ask them to be open and admit things they are doing themselves to contribute to issues with meetings in the workplace. After several times of doing this talk, I started noticing patterns emerging:

  1. Being unprepared
  2. Not everyone in attendance participating (people are checking emails or doing work during the meeting)
  3. Never starting on time
  4. Having too many people in the room

Do these look familiar in the meetings you are attending or facilitating today? If I think back through my career, any meeting that didn’t have at least one of these symptoms was an exception.

As I write this, the world is coping with a pandemic that has largely seen the US knowledge workforce temporarily transition to a work from home model. Now, more than ever, we need to find ways to fix the problems with our less than effective meetings.

How do we combat the findings of that 2019 Doodle survey? Let’s discuss some creative ways to counter the four trends above with a specific focus on how we can work remotely given the climate of the times:

  1. Simply Put: Prepare – If you schedule the meeting, then it is your responsibility to prepare for the meeting. Scheduling for someone else? Stop doing it! There needs to be one person that takes ownership of preparation and running the meeting, and it must be the owner of the calendar invite. Preparation is much more than preparing an agenda (although that is helpful). Ask yourself these questions:
    • What is the intended outcome of the meeting?
    • Do I have the appropriate tools and facilitation techniques prepared to create action at the conclusion of the meeting?
    • How am I immediately going to bring attention to the purpose?
    • Are the right people invited? (which leads to the next point…)

 

  1. The right people are in attendance – This doesn’t mean we need to invite everyone in the company to every meeting. Often less is more. So often we invite the world to the meeting only to have two people have a conversation. Sure, we think we’re doing the right thing because we want to disseminate information to everyone in attendance. However, are those additional people truly mentally present? Are there better ways to share decisions and actions that were made during the meeting? There sure are, so find them!

 

  1. Never starting on time – So many corporate cultures that I have been a part of have started their meetings 10 minutes later than the scheduled time. Admittedly, this drives me absolutely insane. If you need to provide a cushion for people to show up on time then please do so. However, this is totally fixable. Start at the time that you scheduled the meeting. Don’t wait for stragglers, just get the meeting going. If you become known as a punctual meeting starter, people will take notice and strive to be on time.

 

  1. Involve the Whole Room – This is especially difficult right now as so much work is happening remotely at this moment in time. I generally prefer more analog type interactions (sticky notes, whiteboards, etc.) and I’ve been keen on using Liberating Structures for a few years now. Luckily, these types of interactions are still possible with digital tools. There is an abundance of affordable tools that allow for breakout rooms, whiteboarding, or even virtual sticky noting. Personally, I use Zoom, which has a great break out room feature. I’m also a fan of Miro. I would love to hear what tools you are finding effective, so post in the comments on this blog to share what you are using.

 

A final thought on this topic… Although it might be uncomfortable at first, start using video. It’s impossible to gauge body language by talking on the phone. Video is the best way to virtually be in the same room together, use it!

I’ve revealed the four most common themes that have emerged from my conference talk , now let’s all take action on improving our meetings. I’d love to hear what your experiences are and what steps you have taken to improve meetings in your workplaces.

Post comments and let’s collectively make the world a more collaborative place.